Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Dismaying Story #116: When Monetary Styles Collide

Dear Andrew:

I am 38 and my live-in boyfriend is 35. We have lived together for almost 8 years. In all of that time, he has always signed over his paychecks to me because he has proven that he cannot be financially responsible. He did this with no complaints whatsoever because he admits that he handles money poorly. He was happy to let me take care of the finances, and so was I. We share a joint checking account and each of us has a debit card. I keep his card until he needs it and then he gives it right back to me for safekeeping. I do all the budgeting and pay all of our bills.

We got into credit card debt (they were in my name only) over the years and I got it all squared away with consumer credit counseling. We have been living on a cash basis for a full year. . . or so I thought.

I've always had the stable job. BF is a chef and he's had a series of jobs. I'll say from the get go that he is an extremely hard worker; he's not lazy or a slacker and for that I am proud. So imagine my happiness when he finally gets a head chef position for a sorority at a college nearby. He LOVED it.

Finally, a job that's worthy of him and his skills. That lasted for one year. He was fired because the company he worked for wanted him to sign an employment contract that was even more restrictive and one-sided than the one he initially signed. On the advice of his attorney, he didn't sign it. So he's been helping our farmer neighbors, being a handyman, feeding cattle, that sort of thing. They have been paying him an hourly wage, which is fine by me. My only requirement is that he's employed and contributes to the household financially and not sponge off me.

The sorority house wants him back on a private basis, not through the company. They want him to bid for the position. However, BF has been saying for years that he wants to go into cattle farming. He has renewed this wish and has already applied for a gov't grant. He says he will continue to be paid by our farmer neighbors in the interim. I am irate; we've both suffered and worked hard for 8 years for him to find a good kitchen gig and now he wants to change careers? I call shenanigans! Not fair! I am ashamed to admit that at one point I told him it was either farming or me. I admit that I put him under an immense amount of pressure.

Imagine my surprise and disgust when I pick up the mail one day and find out that he has two credit cards in his name! The balances equaled about $1,200.00. I was hurt, humiliated, embarrassed, and ashamed. He lied to me on all levels. Some of the money he was "'paid" by our farmer neighbors was actually a cash advance on his credit card. Also, he bought lots of tools for his new farming career and used these cards to purchase them. He lied about all of this, made up stories on how he got the tools, etc.

I told him I was leaving him. Sure, because of the debt he piled up, but first and foremost because he LIED. Here I swallowed my pride and went to consumer credit counseling, was doing without many things because we were living on a cash only basis, clutching my calculator in one hand, and my coupons in the other while at the grocery store, telling him how proud I was of us for living a year credit free, and he's lying to me the whole time.

He said he was scared to tell me because he didn't want me to worry about where the money was coming from, and that he'd take care of it. He also said it was "normal" to have credit card debt, in spite of the fact that I am working so hard to get out of it. He also called me a money Nazi (which is accurate: I'm extremely anal about budgeting and maintaining good credit). I controlled everything he did. He couldn't even buy a pack of cigs without asking me for the debit card first.

I told him to fess up to any other cards he has because I was going to find out in any event. He said those two were the only cards he had. Of course, I didn't believe him. I log onto his account and find that he has another one. The balance is about 8K. I almost got physically ill when I saw this. He said he got the last card because he thought it was over between us and he thought, "what the hey?" (The dates do coincide with the timing of everything). He admits he went on a "shopping spree" and was very selfish and was only thinking about himself. He also told me he had a little mini mid-life crisis and he said it felt so good to spend that money. I told him that while he was on his shopping spree, did he think about how we need a new dryer? A new bed? New doors for our house?

After my bemoaning the fact that he did not purchase anything for the "family," he goes out and maxes out his credit card and buys us a home computer. At this point, I am at a loss for words and told him that something is wrong with him.

I'm angry, depressed and feel totally disrespected. In spite of all of this, he does a lot for me and I still love him like crazy. But I'm so tired of being the stable one and taking care of everything. For once it'd be nice to have a man who could provide for me. I feel like his mother and I admit, I act like one.

Is the writing on the wall? Or should I hang on? How do I get over this rage I feel toward him? I'm seriously thinking about getting to a therapist to unload. Every time I look at him, I want to punch him in the face.

Signed, Angry Almost-Mother

Dear Angry Almost-Mother,

You and your boyfriend are both contributing problems to your relationship.

He has a money problem, and it won’t be fixed when he gets a better job. He simply doesn’t understand the need to be fiscally responsible and live within his means. He is correct when he says living with a little debt is common, but his track record seems to indicate that when left to his own devices, he will create an unmanageable level of debt. He has an unrealistic optimism about his ability to “take care of it” in the future, despite not having a realistic plan for doing so.

He also has an honesty problem. You are right to be concerned that he is so willing to lie to you, and has done so repeatedly.

You have a control problem. It is not normal for a girlfriend to control every penny her boyfriend spends and tell him what job he has to choose. I can understand how he would feel controlled, manipulated, and emasculated by your tight leash on his life.

You use his poor money management skills as justification for why it is okay to be so controlling, and to a limited extent I can see this. It’s not bad for one partner to step up and say, “Look, we’re having money problems. I’m good with money. Why don’t I track the funds for a while and see if we can get this under control?” That’s fine, but you controlling his every penny can’t be your ongoing life strategy. He is an adult and at some point he has to act like one when it comes to money or you will continue to have serious issues between you. Also, after getting the money situation under control, you need to loosen your grip on his life or you will never have the kind of relationship that both of you need. He needs some autonomy and you need someone to step up for you.

He uses your controlling ways as justification for lying and spending to excess. He doesn’t want to upset you, so he lies -- sorry, that one doesn’t cut it. He figures you won’t be around to control him any more, so he might as well spend himself into debt jail -- this is an indication that he lacks the skills and self-control to manage finances effectively.

No amount of control on your part is going to give him good money habits. Talking to a debt counselor can help him learn about effective management strategies, but at the fundamental level he has to make a decision for himself that he wants to keep his money under control. He doesn’t yet understand how damaging excessive debt can be and he is simply not afraid of it. Unless he learns this for himself, you two will always have a serious issue between you.

The same is true of your controlling ways. The two of you will have issues until you decide you want to share life on roughly a 50-50 give-and-take basis. If you do that right now, however, he is likely to implode financially and take you with him. He has also damaged your love and trust by lying to you.

Your path to regaining the love and trust lies through him. If he wants to get back in your good books, he will have to step up and demonstrate consistent responsibility, restraint, maturity, and honesty. He needs to prove all of this over a period of time so your hurt and anger can dissipate.

Given the story you told, I’m not sure how likely that is to happen.

Whether you are with him or another guy, I urge you to work toward curbing your controlling ways. You will be happier when you are with a man you can trust ... and you act that way by allowing him to live his own life as the other half of your relationship.

All the best,


  1. wow doc -- it sounds like a toxic relationship for the both of them...

    they both seemed to react and not act on the problems they both brought into the relationship

    great advice -- as always!

  2. Everything boils down to trust.

  3. Excellent advice!

    When you control something so tightly, it is no wonder that he would lie to you about exercising some control himself. That is one of the main reasons he took out those credit cards, to gain some of his control back.
    To allow someone or something to be is the true freedom of yourself

  4. I like your response.
    I used to give my ex the money for the bills to and I ended up in debt more than I have ever been,
    It would be easy for me to blame her for the mess but I have to take some of the blame for not keeping an eye on what was happening.

    Its easier for one person to balance the books but its takes both to keep it on track.

    One person cannot decide what the other needs are, they should sit and decide together and show why they need something.
    I know if i did that my Ex wouldn't have gotten a $500 haircut LOL

    As for his lieing and her control issues those wont go away no matter who they are with, they have to work on that.

    Have a nice day

  5. Money is the root of . . . all kinds of problems in a marriage, isn't it?

    As someone who's been to credit hell and back, sat across the table from credit counselors, dealt with overdue bills and struggled and recovered, this young lady has my sympathies. I don't run the books in our house because I'm better at it, but because one of us had to and it (clearly)wasn't going to be him. It's worked for us and I've made a special point of including him in the financial decision-making,
    but for a long time it was an uphill battle. He used to wave me off and insisted that whatever I did would be fine. Just give him an allowance and be done with it, he said. I didn't accept it and I'm glad now that I didn't.

    I remember sweating over nickles and dimes and feeling like the other adult in the house couldn't be trusted with money because they misspent at every opportunity. Control issues like this rarely surface without a logical starting point. And it generally starts when you have to deal with the embarrassment of dealing with creditors, of avoiding phone calls, of once again getting collection letters in the mail. Of having to borrow money from family just to get by.

    It isn't easy feeling like the only grown-up in the house, is it?

    And you probably decided you would never, ever go back there again, didn't you? You worked hard at it--ran on a tight budget, balanced every penny in your checkbook, denying yourself even small luxuries all in the name of getting out of debt. It's easy to feel like you'll never, ever be able to relax. And it's not hard to see how you felt like you had to get tough about it.

    Controlling or not--the lies unacceptable under any circumstances. What he did was wrong. Period. For many reasons, but in this case lies took the place of honest exchange. For whatever reason he didn't feel like he could say, "I feel like you're treating me like a six year old?" Nor did he say: "We have issues, lets get counseling?" Instead he behaved like a teenager, rebelliously proving that he could do whatever he damn well chose. It was terribly, terribly immature, but not unheard of.

    And farming for a living, while wonderfully rewarding, is hard time-consuming work. It isn't just a job you get to come home from at the end of the day--it's a massive lifestyle change and generally requires that both people dedicate a huge portion of their lives and and energy to it. Farming is very nearly a religion. I don't know of any farmers' wives who aren't working just as hard as their husband. And more often than not, both husband and wife have day jobs in addition to the farm. And whats more--most farmers live close to the bone-financially. It this wasn't in your plans originally, then it's understandable that you weren't really excited about it when he announced, "Hey! I've changed my mind! After eight years of asking you to be patient with me while I seek my fortune as a chef, I've decided NOT to take this golden opportunity and ask you to work harder, struggle more and--oh yeah--get manure under your fingernails too! Hope you understand!"

    All that said, you have some heavy decisions to make. He may not ever be any good with money, but you're going to have to stop treating him like a teenager. Your "control issues" more than likely spring from worry and fear and single-minded determination. You shouldn't be shouldering all that yourself. Making him a part of the financial decisions is a must. The lies were pretty awful, but I've seen couples survive them and go on to build stronger relationships. It's a question of what you think you can put up with and forgive and how willing you both are to work at this.

    I'd say you're due some counseling of a different kind this time. It sounds like honest communication frequently only takes place under duress in your household. It needs to be happening all the time.

    I wish you the best.

  6. DivaMinerva1:13 PM

    You may SAY you love him, but how can you respect someone who lies to you to get what he wants DESPITE your household problems and your wants, needs and desires? And has stolen from you as well??? I would guess you could perhaps be in love with the idea of that person, what he could be, but he's not the person you are in love with. Gosh at 34? Can he ever grow up and change? Does he even want to?

    I am so sorry for your pain.

  7. My impression is yeah he lied but the woman sounds a little overbearing in the relationship too?? Does anyone agree with me...?

    This is an intriguing site you've got here btw. I do a blog too. But it has no pictures. You're most welcome to visit my blog too btw: gledwood2.blogspot. It is pretty different from yours though....

    Anyway here's wishing you all the best
    from ...

  8. Lies are never okay... His just keep going. This is going to be continuing frustration and heartbreak.

    I'd say leave him, and find a financial equal...

  9. Anonymous6:03 PM

    I think both of these folks are not good for each other. She is too controlling and he has lied and turned a complete 180 for his career choice.

    I think maybe these two have grown so apart that they should either go to counseling to work it out or let it go. I can understand the heartache of not wanting to give up a long term relationship, but sometimes, it's just best to let things go.

    Even if he does stop lying about credit cards, the resentment seems to be pretty deep and only she can answer if she will be able to give up the strangle hold of control she has.

  10. Anonymous3:54 PM

    I've been there, lived that, not going back.

    It was a lot of responsibility managing the household's finances during my marriage.

    I did not view myself as controlling because we pooled our incomes, pooled our expenses and at the end of the day, what little was left dictated what we could or could not do. I talked to my ex throughout about the budgeting and finances so he knew where we were at and he was asked for his input. He usually just went along with whatever I proposed which was good financial planning that prevented us from falling into bankruptcy and setting and achieving some financial goals.

    Despite that, and the fact that we each had a Debit Card to our Joint account and we each had access to credit cards, he still accuses me of controlling him through the marriage.

    Separate finances seems to be a wonderful idea, then I only have to worry about one person's spending habits.